COVID-19 Recovery Bill 2021
(Debate on Bill, 23 March 2021, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The COVID-19 Recovery Bill 2021 extends various provisions introduced to deal with the pandemic that are due to expire at the end of the month for another six months.
COVID‑19 is still with us and will be with us for at least another six months. I welcome the extension to allow participation in strata community decisions through electronic means, which will ensure democracy can continue. At the beginning of the pandemic I heard from constituents who are concerned that their scheme could not proceed with required meetings. Owners and residents should not be excluded from participating in decisions that will affect them.
I welcome continued voting and attendance through electronic, televised or telephone forms of communication. I support other provisions to ensure business under a number of Acts can continue, but we urgently need to progress recovery beyond facilitating routine business to actual economic and social recovery.
JobKeeper is about to be withdrawn and we face a potentially massive wave of business collapse and unemployment. The 2020 Equity Economics reportA Wave of Disadvantage across NSW: Impact of the COVID‑19 Recession was commissioned by the New South Wales Council of Social Service. The report predicts that unemployment will reach 11 per cent in Sydney's inner city and the inner south by June this year. The number of families experiencing housing stress is expected to increase by more than 88,000, more than 24 per cent, with 27,447 more children at risk of neglect. An additional 9,000 people are expected to experience homelessness across the State. The extension of the moratorium on residential evictions for rental arrears and on no-grounds evictions will help to keep in their home people who lose their jobs and cannot pay their rent, but they are likely to still experience housing stress and mounting debt. I understand that The Greens will have some amendments to strengthen these provisions, which I intend to support.
Reports from constituents and tenant advocates indicate that in the first wave of unemployment associated with the pandemic few tenants got rent reductions, with rent deferrals more common. In the inner city, this can result in significant growing debt. We need to protect newly unemployed tenants from going into massive debt. This will involve ensuring that they can get a fair rent reduction or are able to break a lease. Some small businesses in commercial and residential leases will benefit from the requirement to renegotiate rent and attend mediation, but this will do little to protect the small business operators from the CBD who I met with and whose situation is dire.
The delegation of small business operators that I met with based in the CBD ran businesses that rely on trade from office workers. The towers that house those workers are still only at 25 per cent capacity because they are tenanted by multinational corporations that continue to have global work from home policies. One of the operators I met runs a coffee cart in a bank building that has virtually been empty for over a year. During the height of the pandemic, trade dropped to 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels, yet the small businesses I talked to were only offered around 10 per cent rent reductions at the time. The full rent is now being demanded from many, despite ongoing reduced trade.
Rent negotiations are not being done in good faith; they have gone through mediation and the Small Business Commissioner, but a fair outcome has not been reached yet. One operator attempted tribunal action but was sent away to get legal advice that he simply could not afford. JobKeeper is the main source of income for these businesses and without it they risk bankruptcy. Although many would like to, they cannot just close their businesses because they will lose large bonds, be liable to continue paying rent and risk landlords pursuing their assets used as guarantees, including their homes. Mandatory mediation and renegotiations will not help these businesses. I ask the Treasurer to address this concern in his reply and confirm that the Government will either provide financial relief or help small businesses in the CBD to end their leases without financial ruin.